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1st SOS pays tribute to Stray 59

From left, Staff Sgt. Michael Wilson and Staff Sgt. Anthony Bliss, both loadmasters from the 1st Special Operations Squadron, prepare to drop the wreath from an MC-130H Combat Talon II off the coast of the Philippines Feb. 26, 2014 in memory of those who died in the crash of Stray 59.  The flight honors those who were lost 33 years ago when a 1st SOS MC-130E, call sign STRAY 59, crashed during an exercise killing eight crew members and 15 passengers. (U. S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

From left, Staff Sgt. Michael Wilson and Staff Sgt. Anthony Bliss, both loadmasters from the 1st Special Operations Squadron, prepare to drop the wreath from an MC-130H Combat Talon II off the coast of the Philippines Feb. 26, 2014 in memory of those who died in the crash of Stray 59. The flight honors those who were lost 33 years ago when a 1st SOS MC-130E, call sign STRAY 59, crashed during an exercise killing eight crew members and 15 passengers. (U. S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Members of the 1st Special Operations Squadron pose with a wreath that was dropped from a U.S. Air Force MC-130H Combat Talon II special operations aircraft to memorialize Stray 59 on Feb 26, 2013. Stray 59 was a 1st Special Operations Squadron U.S. Air Force MC-130E Combat Talon I special operations aircraft that crashed in 1981 near Subic Bay, Philippines, during a training mission. (U. S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Members of the 1st Special Operations Squadron pose with a wreath that was dropped from a U.S. Air Force MC-130H Combat Talon II special operations aircraft to memorialize Stray 59 on Feb 26, 2013. Stray 59 was a 1st Special Operations Squadron U.S. Air Force MC-130E Combat Talon I special operations aircraft that crashed in 1981 near Subic Bay, Philippines, during a training mission. (U. S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- A 1st Special Operations Squadron crew conducted their annual wreath drop Feb. 26 off the coast of the Philippines to pay tribute to the crew of Stray 59.

Stray 59 was the call sign of an MC-130E from the 1st SOS that crashed Feb. 26, 1981 during an exercise killing eight of the nine crew members and 15 special operators that were passengers. The memorial flight has been flown by the 1st SOS every year since the crash.

"It's an honor to pay tribute to our fallen Stray Goose comrades and remember their sacrifice," said Lt. Col. Mike Jackson, 1st SOS commander and aircraft commander for the memorial flight. "By nature in our SOF community, events like this truly resonate. We don't forget, and we view our heritage as a real resource even as we continually look ahead to improve how we execute our ops. It was a gorgeous day in the Philippines and over the memorial DZ. The mission was flown to Talon II and 1st SOS standards. We're proud to keep this tradition going."

In February 1981, crews from the 1st SOS were responsible for the airlift during Special Warfare Exercise '81, an annual joint exercise in the Philippines hosted by the U.S. Navy Seals. The squadron established a base of operations at Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Philippines, and crews flew day and night missions involving low-level, psychological operations, and infiltration and exfiltration of forces.

Maj. James M. Kirk commanded STRAY 59 and a crew from the 1 SOS that was responsible for a total of 12 missions during the 16-day exercise. STRAY 59 was scheduled to be his crew's final mission during the Specwarex '81.

The morning of Feb. 26, 1981, the crew's takeoff time for the mission was slipped from 1:05 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. due to an extended crew day on their mission a day before. STRAY 59, executed a non-tactical departure from Cubi Point at 4:28 a.m. and executed a tactical landing back at Cubi Point at 5:06 a.m. to quickly load 15 personnel participating in the exercise. STRAY 59 executed a tactical departure two minutes later. The crew made their operational normal call six minutes into their low-level flight with a ground radio station. The second, and last, transmission from STRAY 59 was received at 5:21 a.m.; there had been no indication from the crew to indicate a problem with their aircraft.

Minutes later, a local fisherman watched the aircraft impact the water and explode. Eight crewmembers and 15 special operators were killed instantly. One crew member from the 1st SOS, the electronic warfare officer, was thrown from the wreckage and rescued by a local fisherman.

The investigation conducted on STRAY 59 could not pinpoint the exact cause of the accident. The lack of physical evidence following the crash hindered the investigation. Minutes after impacting the ocean the wreckage sank to a depth of 240 feet.

The 1st SOS members lost during the STRAY 59 crash on Feb. 26, 1981 were Maj. James Kirk, aircraft commander, Capt. Norman Martel, pilot, Capt. Thomas Patterson, navigator, Capt. Gregory Peppers, navigator, Tech. Sgt. Stephen Blyler, radio operator, Tech. Sgt. Barry Chumbley, loadmaster, Tech. Sgt. Gary Logan, loadmaster, and Staff Sgt. John Felton, flight engineer.